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I, computer!

May 20, 2008
it’s alive…
clipped from

How many flips does it take to get these pancakes sorted? A colony of E. coli may be able to sort it out.

Scientists have built the first living computer and tasked
it with solving an important problem: flipping pancakes.

Researchers genetically engineered the bacterium E. coli
to coax its DNA into computing a classic mathematical puzzle known as the
burned pancake problem. Molecules of DNA have the natural ability to store and
process information, and scientists have been performing computations with bare
DNA molecules in lab dishes since the mid-1990s. But the new research, reported
online in the Journal of Biological
, is the first to do DNA computation in living cells.

“Imagine having the parallel processing power of a million
computers all in the space of a drop of water,” says Karmella Haynes, a
biologist at Davidson College in North
Carolina. “It’s possible to do that because cells are
so tiny and DNA is so tiny.”

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